Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Even birthdays have to wait

We spent two days with Rebekah and Paddy in their home, the Peaceable Kingdom, in a place called Moratinos. It lies almost in the middle of the Camino Frances and a great procession of pilgrims pass through there every day. But no one has heard of it. We told the people in the hostal in Villalon de Campos where we were going, we also mentioned it to the priest and the lady in the Farmacia but they all looked blank.

Rebekah turned up at the appointed hour to collect us. She had dogs Una and Tim in tow. Una has recently had a leg amputated but seemed irrepressible. Rebekah wanted to know all about the route and we chatted before she went off to buy sausages and we fetched our bags.

In a jiffy we were whizzing along the main road. We caught up with the young lad from Madrid we had met on the route. He refused a lift even for his pack and we bade him "buen camino" for the last time.

Blink and you would pass Moratinos, a hamlet of 18 inhabitants. We met Paddy her husband who I took to immediately. Both were still smarting from a difficult situation which had arisen with someone else - I know everyone involved. All good people. But sometimes people just don't get on. When this happens we need to deal with it and move on.

Rebekah and Paddy are living the dream of many people especially pilgrims. They renovated a country house, in Spain, almost on the Camino Frances. They are embraced by their neighbours and they open their home to pilgrims whenever they can. They offer listening ears, tea, respite and where needed, a bed. I found they also offered seriously interesting conversation and both have not only been pilgrims but have served others as hospitaleros.

Theirs is a ministry of the most individual kind. I couldn't do what they do and I want to think more about my time with them before writing more.

On Saturday Rebekah kindly drove us to the station at Sahagun. We were early for our train to Santiago and we joined her for some shopping in the market. The smells of fresh vegetables mixed with those from the cheese stall. The place was bustling with people. Freshly baked bread was being bought in the Panaderia as if it was going out of fashion.

We bought the makings of a picnic for our train journey to Santiago and the train pulled up at the platform exactly on time. We found our pre allocated seats and settled down for the journey of six and a half hours. I had been half certain this must be a mistake on the timetable but the conductor confirmed it. So too by coincidence did the book I had borrowed from Rebekah. In "On Pilgrimage" Jennifer Lash described the same train journey in 1986. The journey hasn't got shorter in 20 years. But they now show feature films in carriages more like aeroplane cabins. It was clean and had curtains which worked. Why can't British Rail be like this?

I was treated like a long lost son on arrival at my usual hostal in Santiago and alleluia, the box of clothes sent ahead from London had arrived. There is an almost sensual pleasure in changing out of the same clothes worn and washed daily on Camino. There is also a feeling of petite mort as another journey ends.

We had arrived just as the great August holiday was coming to an end and next morning in the Pilgrims' Office I was regaled by tales of long queues of pilgrims waiting for their compostela. Over 35,000 had been issued in the previous month. The police had been called twice when pilgrims had refused to accept the office had to close at 9pm, 12 hours after opening. In scenes redolent of the middle ages the angry queue had blocked the door pushing the poor members of staff out of the way.

I was very interested that these stories were related without a hint of resentment. Crazy pilgrims. But I bet it wasn't funny at the time.

August ending is as if a tap has been turned down. The flow of pilgrims slows. The Office is more relaxed. Time this afternoon for a small party with cakes for a celebration delayed from the busy days. In August even birthdays have to wait.

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